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03/28/2005

Bad mother, good wife

Ayelet Waldman is a bad mother.

Hey, hey, I'm just quoting. That's what she claims:

If a good mother is one who loves her child more than anyone else in the world, I am not a good mother. I am in fact a bad mother. I love my husband more than I love my children.

The article I linked above describes the consuming desire Waldman feels for her husband, novelist Michael Chabon, a passion that eclipses her love for their four kids. From her writing I infer that she's happy to the point of complacency in being a bad mother as long as she's still a good wife.

But is that even possible?

Paul and I are barely on the cusp of this new phase in our partnership, where we're learning to modulate our own needs to accomodate Charlie's. I'm just beginning to understand how carefully I'll have to negotiate those needs, sometimes doing what's right for Charlie at the expense of our relationship, sometimes doing precisely the opposite, only hoping I misjudge as seldom as possible. I'll make mistakes; I already have. What matters is the trying.

To talk about who I love more, my husband or my child, as Waldman does, seems meaningless — they're part of each other. Although Paul and I have a relationship separate from Charlie, just as Charlie and I have one apart from Paul, just as the two of them do, for now we are mostly a triad. No one of us comes first right now. We have to come together.

So how can I be a good wife if I'm not also a good mother to the small creature we made together? How does it honor the man you love to be a bad mother to your children?

I think it's possible, just, to be a good mother and a bad wife. (I've seen enough divorces to believe that.) But does it work the other way? Can you be a bad mother and still be a good wife?

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